HUMAN rights defenders in southern Africa have called on young people in Zimbabwe and the continent to take an active role in democratic processes, amid deepening concern over accountability in governance and political systems across the continent.
Zimbabwe is immersed in a blighting socio-economic crisis which has been underlined by the government’s failure to deliver in key sectors such as health, education and employment creation.
The country has also failed to run a credible election, with the regional Southern African Development Community Electoral Observer Mission (SEOM) for the first time dramatically dismissing the sham polls, deviating from the soft stance it has taken in past elections.
Speaking at Accountability Lab Zimbabwe’s Incubator friendraiser programme this week, chief of party for the Advancing of Rights in southern Africa at Freedom House, Mpangi Kwenge, said young people ought to take an active role in holding elites to account.
The incubator programme supports young accountapreneurs — accountability entrepreneurs who develop innovative, bottom-up ideas for accountability and anti-corruption.
AL Zimbabwe provides accountapreneurs with mentorship, quarterly training, knowledge sharing, sustained communications, fundraising and advocacy support.
Among the graduates honoured were journalists Sharon Munjenjema, Calvin Manika and Brighton Ncube.
Ncube’s initiative, the Women’s Commune, leverages mobile technology, coding, and storytelling as tools to empower marginalised women to participate fully in governance processes, while Munjenjema’s Forum for Conservation Communicators provides capacity building and support to journalists interested in reporting climate justice and environmental issues.
Manika’s initiative, Whange Environmental Warriors, is an environmental accountability watchdog mobilising young people to protect environmental rights in Hwange district, while another graduate, Chiedza Sasa, designed a WhatsApp Bot, ChitChat, that allows citizens to access local governance information on their phones. Other graduates include Ruth Takapera, Allan Nyamande, Joram Mahindidze, Tinaye Chiketa, Miranda Mathe, Zibusiso Munandi and Claris Mushonga.
Kwenge said: “Governments are not working for the people, basic service delivery is lacking, unemployment is rising, basic education seems unattainable, elections have become an exercise in futility and political participation seems to be a privilege only afforded to the elite.
“But amidst all of this, there is hope. The hope lies in you guys, that this generation that has lost so much already and can’t afford to lose anymore will bring about the necessary structural change and policy interventions to turn things around politically and socio-economically.
“We need systems that work and leaders that can be held accountable. We need young people (you) to be interested in the political processes that govern your livelihoods and determine how far you get in life.”
Kwenge encouraged young people to use technology and innovativeness in promoting transparency, while claiming their space in the human rights discourse.
“Tech is great, use it to your advantage but leave no one behind on the basis of access to smart phones, internet or data. You are only as strong as the community you advocate for, but more importantly the community that supports your cause and walks with you,” she said.
“There is strength in numbers. Two weeks ago I attended the Southern Africa HRD Summit in Windhoek, we had a number of panel discussions over several issues, elections, human rights, tech etc. The one question that kept coming from the floor was: Where are the young people? Why are they not up there, why are they not sitting on panels? A valid question.
“But regardless of how we old McDonald (Lewanika AL Zimbabwe country director) and I look now, we too were once young people, we demanded space at the table not just because we were young and black but because we had ideas and we were willing to contribute to the discourse on democracy and human rights. So what I’m saying is this, yes you deserve a seat at the table but don’t wait for us to pull out a chair and invite you. Show up, know your stuff and demand that seat, be so committed and steadfast in your ideals that it makes it virtually impossible for us to ignore you or deny you space.”
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), more than one in four young people in Africa — around 72 million — are not in employment, education or training (NEET), with two-thirds being young people and women.
Kwenge said this gives young people an opportunity to hold the elites to account.
“Africa is in the unique position of being a relatively young continent, with a rapidly growing youth population. This brings with it much potential but also some challenges. Tackling youth unemployment and gender inequalities is essential if countries are to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8 on decent work for all by 2030,” Kwenge said.
“The key to resolving this conundrum is in strengthening individual democracies and governance systems throughout the region. What do I mean by this? All over the continent the majority of citizens are disgruntled and despondent.”
Cynthia Chingwena, an African Union (AU) youth ambassador for southern Africa, said societies are paying the price of having limited youth involvement in crucial democratic processes.
“First, conversations around youth inclusion do not adequately capture value-driven inputs and overly depend on demographics and while it may be true that the world is becoming more African with an increasing number of people aged between 18 and 35, leveraging the demographic dividend requires investing in and mainstreaming youth in nation building efforts,” Chingwena said.
“For example, the use of drone technology in enhancing the national and continental peace and security architecture. What I am saying here is Africa no longer needs strongman armies and governments to deal with contemporary security threats such as migration, trans-border crimes and terrorism. Agile policies that take in community perspectives and encourage the participants of diverse stakeholders, including the civil society are the future.
“Second, mobilisation. Many states find themselves in disrepute because there are not enough youth committed to formal spaces of participation. In the South African context, up to 48% of those eligible to vote did not show up at the polls — majority being youth.”